In 1830 the Congress of the United States passed a bill called the “Indian Removal Act”. The Cherokee fought removal legally by challenging the removal law in the Supreme Court of the United States. The Cherokee challenged the law as an independent Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Nation v. Georgia the Court refused to hear a case extending Georgia’s laws concerning the Cherokee because they did not represent a sovereign nation. However, in 1832 the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee on the same issue in Worcester v. Georgia. In this case Chief Justice John Marshall ruled the Cherokee Nation was sovereign. This ruling made the removal law invalid. Due to many factors the Cherokee Nation in 1835 was politically divided. A minority of Cherokee supported the removal and signed the Treaty of New Echota. This treaty validated the removal act. Therefore, in 1838 the United States government forcibly removed more than 16,000 Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek Indians from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia. They were sent during the severe winter of 1838-1839 to Indian Territory in present day Oklahoma. Hundreds of Indians died during their trip west, and thousands perished from relocation. This tragic chapter in American history was known as the Trail of Tears.
The Cherokee brought provisions to sustain them during the relocation. These included corn for planting in Oklahoma. Some of the corn survived and was given the name ‘White Eagle’. This corn is highly revered by descendents of the Trail of Tears March.
Debbie Henry of the NRCS is the American Indian/ Alaskan Native Special Emphasis Program Manager and American Indian Tribal Liaison for Georgia. In 2007, she requested the Jimmy Carter Plant Materials Center (PMC) grow production seed of ‘White Eagle’ for education and remembrance of the Trail of Tears March to Oklahoma. Debbie provided the corn to the PMC for spring 2007 planting. Personnel from Area 3 of the NRCS and PMC harvested 1,100 pounds of clean high quality corn on August 23, 2007. Packets of this corn are being sent to interested parties in the Southeastern United States.